Illustrated by W. Heath Robinson
There was once a merchant, who was very, very rich. He had six children, three boys and three girls, and as he was a man of good sense, he spared no expense in order that they might be well educated, and gave them masters of every kind. His daughters were all beautiful, but his youngest one was especially admired, and from the time she was a small child, had been only known and spoken of as “Beauty.” The name remained with her as she grew older, which gave rise to a great deal of jealousy on the part of her sisters. The young girl was not only more beautiful than they were, but also kinder and more amiable. The elder daughters gave themselves great airs, for they were overweeningly proud of being so rich, and would not condescend to receive visits from the daughters of other merchants, as they only cared for the society of people in high position. Not a day passed that they did not go to a ball, or a theatre, or for a drive or walk in a fashionable part of the town, and they made fun of their sister, who spent a great part of her time in study. The girls received many offers of marriage from well-to-do merchants, as they were known to be rich, but the two elder ones replied, that they did not intend to marry anyone, unless a duke or an earl could be found for a husband.
Beauty, the youngest, was more polite, and thanked those who asked for her hand, but she was, as she told them, too young as yet, and wished to remain for a few more years as a companion to her father.
Then, all at once, the merchant lost the whole of his fortune; nothing was left to him but a little house, situated far away in the country. He told his children, weeping, that they would be obliged to go and live there, and that, even then, they would have to support themselves by the work of their own hands. His two elder daughters refused to leave the town; they had many admirers, they said, who would be only too glad to marry them, although they were now without fortune. But these young ladies found themselves greatly mistaken, for their admirers did not even care to look at them, now that they were poor. They had made themselves generally disliked, on account of their haughty behaviour. “They do not deserve to be pitied,” said everyone; “we are very glad that their pride is humbled; let them go and play the fine lady, keeping sheep.” But people spoke differently of Beauty. “We are very sorry,” they said, “that she is in trouble; she is such a good girl! she always spoke so kindly to the poor! she was so gentle and courteous!” Several of her suitors, also, still wished to marry her, although she had not a penny, but she told them that she could not think of leaving her father in his distress, and that she intended going with him into the country, to comfort him, and help with the work. Beauty was very unhappy at losing her fortune, but she said to herself, “It is no use crying, tears will not give me back my riches; I must try and be happy without them.”
As soon as they were settled in their country house, the merchant and his sons began to till the ground. Beauty rose every morning at four o’clock, and made haste to clean the house and prepare the dinner. She found her duties very painful and fatiguing at first, for she had not been accustomed to do the work of a servant; but in two months’ time she had grown stronger, and the activity of her life gave her fresh health and colour.
When her day’s work was over, she amused herself with reading, or music; sometimes she sat down to her wheel, and sang to her spinning. Meanwhile her two sisters were wearied to death with the dulness of their life; they stayed in bed till ten o’clock, did nothing all day but saunter about, and for their only diversion talked with regret of their former fine clothes and friends. “Look at our young sister,” they said to one another; “she is so low-minded and stupid, that she is quite content with her miserable condition.”
The good merchant thought differently: he knew that Beauty was better fitted to shine in society than they were; he admired the good qualities of his youngest child, especially her patience, for her sisters, not content with allowing her to do all the work of the house, took every opportunity of insulting her.
The family had lived in this solitude for a year, when a letter arrived for the merchant, telling him that a vessel, on which there was merchandise belonging to him, had arrived safely in port. The two elder girls were nearly out of their minds with joy when they heard this good news, for now they hoped that they should be able to leave the country. They begged their father, ere he departed, to bring them back dresses and capes, head-dresses, and all sorts of odds and ends of fancy attire. Beauty asked for nothing; for, as she thought to herself, all the money that the merchandise would bring in, would not be sufficient to pay for everything that her sisters wished for. “Is there nothing you wish me to buy for you?” her father said to her. “As you are so kind as to think of me,” she replied, “I pray you to bring me a rose, for we have not one here.” Now Beauty did not really care about the rose, but she had no wish to seem, by her example, to reprove her sisters, who would have said that she did not ask for anything, in order to make herself appear more considerate than they were.
The father left them, but on arriving at his destination, he had to go to law about his merchandise, and after a great deal of trouble, he turned back home as poor as he came. He had not many more miles to go, and was already enjoying, in anticipation, the pleasure of seeing his children again, when, passing on his journey through a large wood, he lost his way. It was snowing hard; the wind was so violent that he was twice blown off his horse, and, as the night was closing in, he was afraid that he would die of cold and hunger, or that he would be eaten by the wolves, that he could hear howling around him.
All at once, however, he caught sight of a bright light, which appeared to be some way off, at the further end of a long avenue of trees. He walked towards it, and soon saw that it came from a splendid castle, which was brilliantly illuminated. The merchant thanked God for the help that had been sent him, and hastened towards the castle, but was greatly surprised, on reaching it, to find no one in the courtyard, or about the entrances. His horse, which was following him, seeing the door of a large stable standing open, went in, and finding there some hay and oats, the poor animal, half dead for want of food, began eating with avidity.
The merchant fastened him up in the stable, and went towards the house, but still no one was to be seen; he walked into a large dining-hall, and there he found a good fire, and a table laid for one person, covered with provisions. Being wet to the skin with the rain and snow, he drew near the fire to dry himself, saying, as he did so, “The master of this house, or his servants, will pardon me the liberty I am taking; no doubt they will soon appear.” He waited for a considerable time; but when eleven o’clock had struck, and still he had seen no one, he could no longer resist the feeling of hunger, and seizing a chicken, he ate it up in two mouthfuls, trembling the while. Then he took a draught or two of wine, and, his courage returning, he left the dining-hall and made his way through several large rooms magnificently furnished. Finally he came to a room where there was a comfortable bed, and as it was now past midnight, and he was very tired, he made up his mind to shut the door and lie down.
It was ten o’clock next morning before he awoke, when, to his great surprise, he found new clothes put in place of his own, which had been completely spoiled. “This palace must certainly belong to some good fairy,” he said to himself, “who, seeing my condition, has taken pity upon me.” He looked out of the window; the snow was gone, and he saw instead, bowers of delicious flowers which were a delight to the eye.
He went again into the dining-hall where he had supped the night before, and saw a little table with chocolate upon it. “I thank you, good madam fairy,” he said aloud, “for your kindness in thinking of my breakfast.”
The merchant, having drunk his chocolate, went out to find his horse; as he passed under a bower of roses, he remembered that Beauty had asked him to bring her one, and he plucked a branch on which several were growing. He had scarcely done so, when he heard a loud roar, and saw coming towards him a Beast, of such a horrible aspect, that he nearly fainted. “You are very ungrateful,” said the Beast in a terrible voice; “I received you into my castle, and saved your life, and now you steal my roses, which I care for more than anything else in the world. Death alone can make amends for what you have done; I give you a quarter of an hour, no more, in which to ask forgiveness of God.”
The merchant threw himself on his knees, and with clasped hands, said to the Beast, “I pray you, my lord, to forgive me. I did not think to offend you by picking a rose for one of my daughters, who asked me to take it her.” “I am not called my lord,” responded the monster, “but simply the Beast, I do not care for compliments; I like people to say what they think; so do not think to mollify me with your flattery. But you tell me you have some daughters; I will pardon you on condition that one of your daughters will come of her own free will to die in your place. Do not stop to argue with me; go! and if your daughter refuses to die for you, swear that you will return yourself in three months’ time.”
The merchant had no intention of sacrificing one of his daughters to this hideous monster, but he thought, “At least I shall have the pleasure of embracing them once more.” He swore therefore to return, and the Beast told him that he might go when he liked; “but,” added he, “I do not wish you to go from me with empty hands. Go back to the room in which you slept, there you will find a large empty trunk; you may fill it with whatever you please, and I will have it conveyed to your house.” With these words the Beast withdrew, and the merchant said to himself, “If I must die, I shall at least have the consolation of leaving my children enough for their daily bread.”
He returned to the room where he had passed the night, and finding there a great quantity of gold pieces, he filled the trunk, of which the Beast had spoken, with these, closed it, and remounting his horse, which he found still in the stable, he rode out from the castle, his sadness now as great as had been his joy on entering it. His horse carried him of its own accord along one of the roads through the forest, and in a few hours the merchant was again in his own little house.
His children gathered round him; but instead of finding pleasure in their caresses, he began to weep as he looked upon them. He held in his hand the branch of roses which he had brought for Beauty. “Take them,” he said, as he gave them to her, “your unhappy father has paid dearly for them.” And then he told his family of the melancholy adventure that had befallen him.
The two elder girls, when they had heard his tale, cried and screamed, and began saying all sorts of cruel things to Beauty, who did not shed a tear. “See what the pride of this wretched little creature has brought us to!” said they. “Why couldn’t she ask for wearing apparel as we did? but no, she must needs show herself off as a superior person. It is she who will be the cause of our father’s death, and she does not even cry!”
“That would be of little use,” replied Beauty. “Why should I cry about my father’s death? He is not going to die. Since the monster is willing to accept one of his daughters, I will give myself up to him, that he may vent his full anger upon me; and I am happy in so doing, for by my death I shall have the joy of saving my father, and of proving my love for him.”
“No, my sister,” said the three brothers, “you shall not die; we will go and find out this monster, and we will either kill him or die beneath his blows.” “Do not hope to kill him,” said their father to them; “for the Beast is so powerful, that I fear there are no means by which he could be destroyed. My Beauty’s loving heart fills mine with gladness, but she shall not be exposed to such a terrible death. I am old, I have but a little while to live; I shall but lose a few years of life, which I regret on your account, and on yours alone, my children.”
“I am determined, my father,” said Beauty, “that you shall not return to that castle without me; you cannot prevent me following you. Although I am young, life has no great attraction for me, and I would far rather be devoured by the monster than die of the grief which your death would cause me.”
In vain the others tried to dissuade her, Beauty persisted in her determination to go to the castle; and her sisters were not sorry about it, for the virtues of their young sister had aroused in them a strong feeling of jealousy.
The merchant was so taken up with grief at losing his daughter, that he quite forgot about the trunk which he had filled with gold pieces, but, to his astonishment, he had no sooner shut himself into his room for the night, than he found it beside his bed. He resolved not to tell his children of his newly-obtained riches, for he knew that his daughters would then wish to return to the town, and he had made up his mind to die where he was in the country. He confided his secret, however, to Beauty, who told him that there had been visitors at the house during his absence, among them two who were in love with her sisters. She begged her father to marry them; for she was so good of heart, that she loved them and freely forgave them all the unkindness they had shown her.
The two hard-hearted girls rubbed their eyes with an onion that they might shed tears on the departure of their father and Beauty; but the brothers wept sincerely, as did also the merchant; Beauty alone would not cry, fearing that it might increase their sorrow. The horse took the road that led to the castle, and as evening fell, it came in view, illuminated as before. Again the horse was the only one in the stable, and once more the merchant entered the large dining-hall, this time with his daughter, and there they found the table magnificently laid for two.
The merchant had not the heart to eat; but Beauty, doing her utmost to appear cheerful, sat down to the table and served him to something. Then she said to herself, “The Beast wants to fatten me before he eats me, since he provides such good cheer.”
They had finished their supper, when they heard a great noise, and the merchant, weeping, said farewell to his poor daughter, for he knew it was the Beast. Beauty could not help shuddering when she saw the dreadful shape approaching; but she did her best not to give way to her fear, and when the Beast asked her if it was of her own free will that she had come, she told him, trembling, that it was so. “You are very good, and I am much obliged to you,” said the Beast. “Good man, to-morrow morning you will leave, and do not venture ever to come here again.” “Good-bye, Beast,” replied Beauty, and the Beast immediately retired. “Alas! my daughter,” said the merchant, clasping Beauty in his arms, “I am half dead with fright. Listen to me, and leave me here.” “No, my father,” said Beauty, without faltering. “You will depart to-morrow morning, and you will leave me under Heaven’s protection, maybe I shall find pity and help.”
They retired to rest, thinking that they would have no sleep that night; but no sooner were they in bed than their eyes closed. In her dreams there appeared to Beauty a lady, who said to her, “I have pleasure in the goodness of your heart, Beauty; your good action in giving your life to save that of your father will not be without its reward.” Beauty told her father next morning of her dream, and although it afforded him some consolation, it did not prevent his loud cries of grief when at last he was forced to bid good-bye to his dear daughter.
After his departure, Beauty went back and sat down in the dining-hall, and began weeping herself. She was, however, of a courageous disposition, and so she commended herself to God, and resolved not to be miserable during the short time still left her to live, for she quite thought that the Beast would eat her that evening. In the meanwhile she resolved to walk about and look over the fine castle she was in. She found it impossible not to admire its beauty, but her surprise was great when she came to a door over which was written: Beauty’s Room. She hastily opened the door, and was dazzled by the magnificence of the whole apartment; what most attracted her admiration, however, was a large bookcase, a piano, and several books of music.
“He does not wish me to feel dull,” she said in a low voice. Then the thought came to her, “If I was only going to live here a day, there would not have been so much provided for my amusement.” This thought revived her courage.
She opened the bookcase and there saw a book on which was written in letters of gold:—
“Wish what you like, Command what you will, You alone are Queen and Mistress here.”
“Alas!” she murmured, sighing, “I wish for nothing but to see my dear father again, and to know what he is doing at this moment.” She had only said this to herself in a low voice, what was her surprise, therefore, when, turning towards a large mirror, she saw her home, and her father, just returned, wearing a sad countenance; her sisters went forward to meet him, and in spite of the expression of sorrow which they tried to assume, it was evident in their faces that they were delighted to have lost their sister. In another minute, the picture had disappeared, and Beauty could not help thinking that the Beast was very kind hearted, and that she had not much to fear from him.
She found the table laid for her at noon, and during her dinner she was entertained with a delightful concert, although no creature was visible.
In the evening, as she was just sitting down to her meal, she heard the sound of the Beast’s voice, and could not help shuddering. “Beauty,” said the monster to her, “will you allow me to look on while you are eating your supper?” “You are master here,” replied Beauty, trembling. “Not so,” rejoined the Beast, “it is you who alone are mistress; if I annoy you, you have only to tell me to go, and I will leave you at once. But confess now, you think me very ugly, do you not?” “That is true,” said Beauty, “for I cannot tell a lie; but I think you are very kind.”
“You are right,” said the monster; “but, besides being ugly, I am also stupid; I know, well enough, that I am only a Beast.”
“No one is stupid, who believes himself to be wanting in intelligence, it is the fool who is not aware of being without it.” “Eat, Beauty,” said the monster to her, “and try to find pleasure in your own house; for everything here belongs to you. I should be very sorry if you were unhappy.” “You are everything that is kind,” said Beauty. “I assure you that your goodness of heart makes me happy; when I think of that, you no longer appear so ugly to me.” “Ah, yes!” replied the Beast, “I have a kind heart, but for all that I am a monster.” “Many men are more monsters than you,” said Beauty; “and I care more for you with your countenance, than for those who with their human face hide a false, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.” “If I had sufficient wit,” responded the Beast, “I would make you a pretty answer in return for your words; but I am too stupid for that, and all I can say is, that I am very grateful to you.”
Beauty ate her supper with a good appetite. She had lost almost all her fear of the monster, but she almost died of fright, when he said, “Beauty, will you be my wife?”
She sat for a while without answering; she was alarmed at the thought of arousing the monster’s anger by refusing him. Nevertheless she finally said, trembling, “No, Beast.” At this the poor monster sighed, and the hideous sound he made echoed throughout the castle, but Beauty was soon reassured, for the Beast, after sadly bidding her adieu, left the room, turning his head from time to time to look at her again.
A strong feeling of compassion for the Beast came over Beauty when she was left alone. “Alas!” she said, “it is a pity he is so ugly, for he is so good!”
Beauty spent three months in the castle, more or less happily. The Beast paid her a visit every evening, and conversed with her as she ate her supper, showing good sense in his talk, but not what the world deems cleverness. Every day Beauty discovered some fresh good quality in the monster; she grew accustomed to his ugliness, and far from fearing his visit, she would often look at her watch to see if it was nearly nine o’clock, for the Beast always arrived punctually at that hour. There was only one thing which caused distress to Beauty, and that was, that every evening before retiring, the monster asked her if she would be his wife, and always appeared overcome with sorrow at her refusal. One day she said to him, “You grieve me, Beast; I wish it were possible for me to marry you, but I am too truthful to make you believe that such a thing could ever happen; I shall always be your friend, try to be satisfied with that.” “I suppose I must,” responded the Beast; “I know I am horrible to look upon, but I love you very much. However, I am but too happy that you consent to remain here; promise me that you will never leave me.” The colour came into Beauty’s face; her mirror had shown her that her father was ill with the grief of losing her, and she was hoping to see him again. “I would promise without hesitation never to leave you,” said Beauty to him, “but I do so long to see my father again, that I shall die of sorrow if you refuse me this pleasure.” “I would rather die myself,” said the monster, “than give you pain; I will send you home to your father, you will stay there, and your poor Beast will die of grief at your absence.” “No, no,” said Beauty, crying; “I care for you too much to wish to cause your death; I promise to return in a week’s time. You have let me see that my sisters are married, and that my brothers have entered the army. My father is all alone, let me remain with him a week.” “You shall be with him to-morrow morning, but remember your promise. When you wish to return, you have only to put your ring on the table before going to bed. Farewell, Beauty.” The Beast gave his usual sigh as he said these words, and Beauty went to bed feeling troubled at the thought of the sorrow she had caused him. When she awoke the following morning, she found herself at home, and ringing a little bell that stood beside her bed, the maid-servant came in, who gave a loud cry of astonishment at seeing her there. Her father ran in on hearing the cry, and almost died of joy when he found his dear daughter, and they remained clasped in each other’s arms for more than a quarter of an hour.
Beauty, after the first transports of joy were over, remembered that she had no clothes with her; but the servant told her that she had just found a trunk in the next room, in which were dresses of gold fabric, trimmed with diamonds. Beauty thanked the kind Beast for his thoughtfulness. She took out the least costly of the dresses, and told the maid to lock the others away again, as she wished to give them to her sisters; but she had no sooner uttered these words, than the trunk disappeared. Her father said to her that the Beast evidently wished her to keep them all for herself, and the trunk and the dresses immediately reappeared.
Beauty dressed herself, and, meanwhile, news of her arrival was sent to her sisters, who came in haste with their husbands. They were both extremely unhappy. The eldest had married a young man who was as handsome as nature could make him, but he was so in love with his own face, that he could think of nothing else from morning to night, and cared nothing for the beauty of his wife. The second had married a very witty and clever man, but he only made use of his ability to put everybody in a bad temper, beginning with his wife.
Her sisters nearly died of envy when they saw Beauty dressed like a princess, and beautiful as the day. In vain she showered caresses upon them, nothing could stifle their jealousy, which only increased when she told them how happy she was.
These two jealous creatures went into the garden, that they might cry more at their ease. They said to one another, “Why should this wretched little thing be happier than we are? Are we not more attractive than she is?”
“Sister,” said the eldest one, “an idea has occurred to me: let us try to keep her here over the week. Her stupid old Beast will be enraged at her breaking her word, and perhaps he will devour her.” “You are right, sister,” replied the other; “to carry out our plan, we must appear very loving and kind to her.” And having settled this, they went back to the house and were so affectionate to her, that Beauty cried for joy. When the week drew to a close, the two sisters showed such signs of grief at her departure, and made such lamentation, that she promised to stay till the end of the second one. Beauty, however, reproached herself for the sorrow she would cause her poor Beast, whom she loved with all her heart; and she began to miss him very much. On the tenth night of her absence, she dreamed that she was in the garden of the castle, and that she saw the Beast lying on the grass, apparently dying, and that he reproached her with her ingratitude. Beauty awoke with a start, and wept. “I am indeed wicked,” she said, “to behave so ungratefully to a Beast who has been so considerate and kind to me! Is it his fault that he is ugly and that he is not clever? He is good, and that is worth everything else. Why did I refuse to marry him? I should be happier with him than my sisters are with their husbands. It is neither beauty nor wit in a husband which makes a wife happy; it is amiability of character, uprightness and generosity: and the Beast has all these good qualities. I do not love him, but I respect him, and I feel both affection for him, and gratitude. I will not make him unhappy; should I do so, I should reproach myself for it as long as I live.”
With these words, Beauty rose, placed her ring on a table, and lay down again. The moment she was in bed, she fell asleep, and when she awoke next morning, she saw with delight that she was back in the Beast’s castle. She dressed herself magnificently, in order to please him, and the hours seemed to drag as she waited for nine o’clock to strike; but the hour came, and the Beast did not appear.
Then Beauty began to fear that she had caused his death. She ran through the castle, uttering loud cries, for she was in despair. After having looked everywhere, she remembered her dream, and ran into the garden towards the water, where she had seen him in her sleep. She found the poor Beast stretched on the ground, and unconscious, and she thought he was dead. Forgetting her horror at his appearance, she threw herself upon him, and feeling that his heart was still beating, she fetched some water and threw it over his head. The Beast opened his eyes, and said to Beauty, “You forgot your promise; in my grief at losing you, I determined to let myself die of hunger; but I die happy, since I have had the joy of seeing you once again.” “No, my dear Beast, you shall not die,” exclaimed Beauty. “You shall live to be my husband; I am yours from this moment, and only yours. Alas! I thought the feeling I had for you was only one of friendship; but now I know, by the grief I feel, that I cannot live without you.” Beauty had scarcely uttered these words before she saw the castle suddenly become brilliantly illuminated, while fire-works, music, everything indicated the celebration of some joyful event. She did not gaze long, however, at these splendours, but quickly turned her eyes again towards her dear Beast, the thought of whose danger made her tremble with anxiety. But what was her surprise when she saw that the Beast had disappeared, and that a young and handsome Prince was lying at her feet, who thanked her for having released him from enchantment. Although this Prince was fully worthy of her attention, Beauty, nevertheless, could not help asking what had become of the Beast. “You see him at your feet,” said the Prince to her. “A wicked fairy condemned me to remain in the form of a monster, until some fair damsel would consent to marry me, and she forbade me also to betray that I had intelligence. You are the only one who has been kind enough to allow the goodness of my heart to touch yours, and I cannot, even by offering you my crown, acquit myself of obligation to you.”
Beauty, agreeably surprised, gave the young Prince her hand, to help him to rise. They passed, side by side, into the castle, and Beauty nearly died of joy, when she found her father and all her family assembled in the dining-hall, the beautiful lady whom she had seen in her dream having transported them thither. “Beauty,” said the lady, who was a well-known fairy, “receive the recompense of your noble choice; you preferred virtue to beauty or intelligence, and you therefore deserve to find all these qualities united in one person. You are soon to become a great queen; I trust your exalted position will not destroy your good disposition. As for you,” said the fairy, turning to Beauty’s sisters, “I know your hearts and all the malice concealed in them. Be turned, therefore, into statues, but preserve your consciousness beneath the stone which will envelop you. You will remain at the entrance of your sister’s palace, and I impose no further punishment upon you, than to be the constant witnesses of her happiness. You will not be able to resume your present forms, until you have recognised and confessed your faults, but I greatly fear that you will always remain statues. Pride, anger, greediness, and laziness may be corrected; but nothing short of a miracle can convert the envious and malicious heart.”
The fairy then gave a tap with her wand, and all those assembled in the dining-hall were immediately transported into the Prince’s kingdom. His subjects greeted him with joy; he married Beauty, who lived a long life with him of perfect happiness, for it was founded upon virtue.